Tag Archives: essays

Grade Grubbers

I hate grade grubbers more than I hate pedophiles.  Grade grubbers are the pedophiles of the academic world. Is that too extreme? Offensive? (Guess what? I don’t care)

For the blessedly unfamiliar, grade grubbers are self-congratulating, special snowflakes who can’t seem to accept reality at the end of a semester.  As such, they attempt to force their delusions upon me.

They do this at the end of a semester.

After final grades have been submitted.

When I just want to curl up in my heated blanket and pretend they never existed.

They are the lemon juice in a paper cut I forgot I had.  They are the dank, rotten cilantro odor tainting the air after a stink bug has been slain.  They are the e-mails clogging my spam folder (the ones I never get around to deleting), trying to sell me Viagra for the penis I don’t have.

They come to me, obsequious and contrite at first, begging for unwarranted clemency.

I’m a special snowflake. I deserve an A. Please give me an A.

Their e-mails are always subtle and passive aggressive in their attempts to place the blame for their failure squarely upon my shoulders.  Let me give you a sampling:

Dear Professor, (respectful – so far, so good)

I was surprised to see that I ended up with a B in your class.

(Oh really?  Were you surprised?  Because, guess what, reading your final essay was like stubbing my toe a million times and then immediately falling into a pool of lava.  Did Paris Hilton write it for you, or did you just dangle a fish in front of your your cat while it walked across your keyboard for a few minutes?)

After all, I got A’s in all my other classes, and I’ve always been an A student. (Oh fantastic!  I didn’t realize I was consorting with an ***A Student*** here. Wow.   I’ll just go change that grade immediately since, after all, your grade in my class is entirely determined by the grades you receive in your other classes and your ability to demonstrate such robust megalomania.  In fact – why just an A?  Let’s make it an A + + +!)

I even had my mom, who is also a professor here, read over all my papers before I turned them in, and she always said they were good.  (Well since your professor mother [who most certainly must exist because you say she does] thinks you deserve an A, I will certainly change that grade for you.  After all, she’s the professor of this class, right?  Oh she’s not?  Well then I guess she can go fly a kite with all the other moms I don’t care about.)

I’m sure such students are the radioactive fallout leftover from this nuclear shift in parental ideology.

 

I feel like I earned an A in your class, and since I was only 1 percentage point away, I would be so grateful if you could change my grade to an A.  (Do I even need to comment on this?  Yes, you were only one percentage point away.  Do you know what that means?  IT MEANS YOU WERE A FULL 1 PERCENTAGE POINT AWAY FROM EARNING AN A.   But you know what?  Forget that.  Let’s come up with a new system of evaluation based upon what you feel you deserve.)

If I don’t get an A in your class, I won’t be able to [insert sob story here – make the dean’s list, keep my scholarship, play basketball, be an RA, achieve self-actualization, wipe my own ass,  and on and on and on, ad infinitum].  If there’s any extra credit I can do to raise my grade, please let me know. (Oh, your performance in my class might jeopardize your ability to have something you want?  Well then I will definitely change your grade lest you suffer some kind of disappointment in life.  We can’t have that.  It’s probably my fault that you didn’t take advantage of the TWO extra credit opportunities I offered earlier in the semester, but now that the semester is OVER, I would love to go out of my way to assign and grade more work for you.)

I really enjoyed this class this semester, and I thought you were a really good professor! (Oh flattery!  Now we’re resorting to flattery!  Ingenious.  I’ll never see through that. . .)

Sincerely (Really?)

The Worst Person Ever – no really, I’m THE WORST person ever

I even had a student once try to force her final essay into my hand even though she had disappeared from class for about a month without a word, far exceeding the attendance policy and automatically failing her for the course (which I informed her about in an e-mail I sent, also encouraging her to withdraw from the class so her failing grade wouldn’t damage her GPA).

I should have known this girl was a soul-sucking black hole of a bitch the first day of class when I innocently pronounced her name, Sajah, like this –> Say-juh (like Asia, but with an S).  She snotted back, “Um, hello? It’s pronounced Suh-jay-uh.”  I wanted to snot back, “No. It’s not.  You’re missing some letters.  Were they stolen?  Perhaps you could borrow some from Emmaleeighh over there, since she’s not even using half the letters in her name.”

Anyway, after I stood my ground and refused to take this girl’s final essay she left it, along with a note, in my mailbox.  The note read “Teachers like you are the reason students like me don’t succeed.”

Am I?  Um, thanks, I guess.

 

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“Rudy Wins the Sportsball Game” by Chad McFrat

I graded 40 rough drafts in one day.  Do you know how much grading that is?  It takes me roughly 15 – 20 minutes to grade a rough draft, so my day clocked in at around 12 hours of grading.  Just grading.  That doesn’t count the planning and class prep I threw in for good measure.  Fellow English teachers/professors out there, I’m sure you feel my pain.  Remember the ‘This is your brain on drugs’ commercials from the 80’s?

(So are they saying that if I do drugs, my brain will become delicious?  That’s my question.)

By the end of the day, my brain felt, not like the fried egg in the commercial, but like an egg that had been whipped into oblivion by a carving fork and then cooked for a few hours into a shriveled, rubbery, burnt oblivion.

Any questions?

If I have to read one more narrative about sports, I’m going to decapitate myself and dribble my own head down a basketball court.  Confession: I hate sports.  It’s not that I don’t understand the merit of sports.  It’s not that I don’t understand how people could like sports.  I just can’t like sports.  I’ve tried.  I was born into a family of sports junkies.  I married into a family of sports addicts.  Trust me, for the sake of my own sanity, I have tried.  I. Just. Can’t.  It’s like trying to force myself to enjoy mayonnaise or ranch dressing.  I understand that people like these condiments (“It’s cool!” “It’s creamy!” “It makes my sandwich moist and delicious!” they cry), but in my opinion, mayonnaise is the repulsive, hellfire mucus of Satan himself

No. No. Nooooonono. Never.  Blargh.  Blech. Ew. Ugh.

and ranch dressing is the pus secreting from his festering wounds .

I watched this SNL skit about a ranch-dressing focus group once.  Once.  As amusing as I find Melissa McCarthy, I would rather change 300 blown-out baby diapers than ever watch it again.   It just confirmed my suspicions.  Ranch dressing is vile.

Here it is. Watch if you dare. It’s your funeral.

It’s as if someone dug through medical waste to find garbage bags filled with the fat sucked out during a liposuction procedure and stuck it in a jar.  Spread THAT on your sandwich.

For me, sports are the entertainment version of this – creamy, liposuction, fatty condiment on a screen that makes my stomach want to crawl out of my throat and run away. There’s nothing that makes me cringe more than accidentally eating a bite of mayonnaise or ranch dressing except for sports sounds in the background of my life.

Ugh.  What kind of monster made this video?  I could only get through 20 seconds of it.

So, when 75% of the narrative drafts I had to grade were about sports trials and tribulations, I thought I actually might start having a House level seizure (that turns out NOT to be lupus).  It was like reading really poorly-written Rudy fan-fiction.  Do you remember Rudy?

No, not the adorable, precocious Cosby kid who always knew just how to put Kenny in his place.

THIS Rudy.

Remember baby Sean Astin overcoming the odds to become a football hero?  At the end of the movie, everyone chants, “Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!” and he’s hoisted onto the shoulders of his teammates, victorious.

I remember Rudy quite vividly because, for some reason, every health class I took from jr. high to high school was taught by some sportsball coach who hung up posters bearing “inspirational” slogans like, “Pain is weakness leaving your body!” and forced us to watch Rudy  and Hoosiers on a constant loop.

Anyway, most of my students’ essays were along the same lines – “How I overcame the odds to move from JV to Varsity” “How I won the big game” “How I made the team” “How I ate a bucket of mayonnaise.”

You might be thinking, “If you don’t want to read papers about sports, why not just tell them they can’t write about sports or create assignments that choose a topic for them, like a literacy narrative”?  I have done this in the past, but what I find is that most of my students are much more willing to write (and are much better at writing) the first essay if I allow them to choose a topic they like.   My hope is that they will somewhat enjoy writing the first paper so that I can begin, ever so slowly,  to chip away at their prejudices toward writing (which are sundry).     “See?  That wasn’t so bad!  Now let’s do a rhetorical analysis of this speech by Alexander the Great!”  It’s sort of like the college-writing version of this:

Yessss. Yesss. Eat the delicious candy. Haha! It’s strained peas!

So for one paper only, I force myself to metaphorically eat an entire bottle of ranch dressing, cringing and heaving all the way.

Here’s a quote from one student’s essay:       “To quote the great Andy Dick, I was in beast mode.”

First of all,

THIS is Andy Dick.

You know, C-List “comedian” whose ability to annoy is second only to a first-place tie between Carrot Top and Gilbert Gottfried.  He’s best known for mastering the art of sexual harrassment and public urination.  So either my student has a completely mangled definition of “great” or he was thinking of somebody else.  I really hope he was thinking of somebody else.  Also, I’m pretty sure Andy Dick never talked about going into ‘beast mode.’  Please correct me if I’m wrong so that I can adequately judge my student for his choice in role models.

Marshawn Lynch definitely goes into that beast mode.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons I don’t like sports.  Every multi-million dollar sportsball hero I’ve ever seen interviewed sounds like Mr. Lynch and, when asked, “How’d you manage to pull out a win tonight?” says things like “Well, you know, the other team gave it 100%, so I just went out there and gave it my 110%”  a phrase that tops my list of pet peeves as a complete impossibility.

Another student wrote, “I dreamed of becoming a professional athlete ass well” which created some very interesting images in my head as I tried to figure out what a ‘professional athlete ass well’ could be.  DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT do a Google search for ‘ass well.’

One wrote about how the big game was very “nerve raking” which I actually like better than “nerve-racking” I think.  Just imagine a rake scraping across exposed nerve-endings.  That seems much more unpleasant

I think I’ll start using that phrase.  For example – “Reading essays about sports is nerve-raking.”

The end.

I’m Lovin’ It!

Nothing fills me with the perfect, incongruous blend of soul-crushing apathy and molten hatred more than a stack of ungraded essays.  As I type this, they sit there, mocking me, tangible evidence of my procrastination and laziness.  Even if I try to shove them down into the depths of my work bag with the balled up tissues and dried-out markers (possibly some anglerfish as well) I know they are there.

This is what I imagine living at the bottom of my work bag, guys.  It's been a while since I've cleaned it out.

This is what I imagine living at the bottom of my work bag, guys. It’s been a long while since I’ve cleaned it out.

The transparent specter of them drifts into my awareness as I try to enjoy that gray, liminal space that exists between procrastination and grudging acquiescence to my responsibilities.  I’m the real life version of this pretend man who who remembers all of his responsibilities just as he is about to enjoy himself.

Of course, last week I mentioned the predominant reason I dread grading:  some essays are so dishearteningly unreadable I would have more luck deciphering Mayan hieroglyphs than trying to slog through such bastardizations of the English language.  But the other, less demoralizing reason I approach grading with complete mental lethargy is that most of the time it’s just. So. Boring.  I mean really, REALLY boring.  Sometimes, before I’ve even finished the first sentence of an essay, I’m already weeping figurative tears over the monotony of repeatedly swallowing so much watery tripe.  It’s like trying to listen to Top 40’s radio dreck – everything sounds the same, it all sounds terrible and people keep insisting on rhyming the word ‘life’ with ‘strife’ or ‘minute’ with…wait for it… ‘MINUTE’ (I’m looking at you, Beyonce).

It begins with a dull title:

– Essay 1

– Argument Essay

– Global Warming

– Essay Final Draft

– Obesity

It continues with an even more lackluster opening sentence:

–          In today’s society, global warming is a big issue.

–          Since the dawn of time, people have been eating.

–          What is education?  Education is. . .

–          Pictures can tell us many different things.

–          Nowadays, technology is everywhere.

–          Dictionary.com defines marriage as. . .

–          In this essay, I’m going to talk about. . .

At this point, I will stop and channel my inner Lucille Bluth as I comment aloud This does not bode well.

My hero.

My hero.

It culminates in the ubiquitous closing phrase, “In conclusion.”

Multiply this by 80 essays at around 2,000 words each, and by the time I am finished my brain is trying to escape through my ears so that it can swan-dive into an empty swimming pool.

So at the end of the day after the essays have attached themselves to my soul and sucked out my remaining life force like an army of parasitic lampreys, I become a hollow shell of a person.  I can’t think.  I can’t move.  So what do I do?  I mentally gorge myself on terrible TV shows – my version of cramming three McDonald’s Big-Mac combos down my gullet.

In his stand-up special Mr. Universe, comedian Jim Gaffigan proclaims, “I’m tired of people acting like they’re better than McDonald’s. You may have never set foot in a McDonald’s, but you have your own McDonald’s.  You know, maybe instead of eating a Big Mac you read US Weekly. Hey, that’s still McDonald’s. It’s just served up a little different.” Gaffigan is alluding to the shame-fueled, back-alley, love-hate relationship America has with McDonald’s, which serves up billions of burgers to patrons each day but is promptly vilified as the incarnation of American excess and gluttony – the Whole Foods anti-Christ.  Gaffigan compares our remorseful, clandestine love for Mickey D’s with our covert love of celebrity gossip:  “Scarlet Johansson got a haircut? Why do I give shit? Because it’s McDonald’s. And it feels good going down.”

If you haven’t watched this yet, stop reading right now and watch it.  Seriously.  Why are you still reading this?  He’s way funnier than I am, guys, trust me.

America’s dirty little McDonald’s secret is evidence of the universal need for a guilty pleasure – something that we know is bad for us but that “feels good going down.”  It’s our McDonald’s, served up in a variety of media.

Mother of God!  This is the original Ronald McDonald.

Hello there children!  I’m the original Ronald McDonald!  Would you like nightmares with that?

Possibly we are self-sabotaging, subconsciously punishing ourselves for falling into the lives we always derided when we were idealistic, college-bound, know-it-alls.  In the end we chide ourselves with reminders that these guilty pleasures are not the life choices we should be making, but in a way I think they might be.

After all, guilty pleasures have helped me survive being an adjunct.  After a stressful day at work, my brain feels like over-cooked risotto or a slice of bread left to bloat in dingy dishwater. After a hellishly long day, all I want to do is forget that it ever happened, and to do that, I need blissful Elysium, sweetest respite – my McDonald’s.  For me, this happens to be bad television – crime shows with clever quips, unrealistically-advanced technology and masterful ‘pensively-removing-of-or-putting-on-the-sunglasses’ action;

Magnificent.

Magnificent.

reality shows about pushy, pudgy, stage parents shellacking their children with pounds of makeup;

Monstrous.  Terrifying.

Monstrous. Terrifying.

shows about ancient Alien astronauts coming to Earth and building Stone Henge, whispering tips in Hitler’s ear.

Batshit.

Batshit.

While Faust lies unread on my nightstand, I lie in a puddle on my couch and allow my McDonald’s to wash over me like a polluted wave filled with Wal-Mart bags and diapers, sweeping me out to sea.

My husband once asked me, a look of confusion and possibly horror on his face, “Why are you watching that?” With a sleepy, crooked grin and half-lidded eyes I told him, “It makes my brain feel like cheese whiz – so smooth and gooey.”

I like that feeling.  Most of the day I feel like one giant, dry, blood-shot eyeball.  For a couple of hours in the evening I savor my McDonalds, and looking forward to it gets me through the day.  It helps me to grit my teeth politely while a student asks me why I didn’t ‘give’ him/her an A.  It’s the comforting light at the end of a tunnel lined with poorly written essays about how marijuana should be legalized because “it cures cancer!” It allows me to briefly forget about the cavity I can’t afford to have filled because my paltry income and lack of insurance won’t cover it.  It softens the sharp edges of my frazzled nerves, like a salty, fatty, cardboard sleeve of McDonald’s fries might subdue the gnawing bite of physical hunger.

Do I regret it afterward?  Usually.  I experience a momentary panic as I think of all the tasks I could have completed in that same amount of time (grading, planning, reading something musty and challenging).  The mountain of responsibilities seems to loom even larger once I’ve crumpled up the wrappers and walked across the sticky, linoleum floors of my escape back out into the sunlight.  So why do I do it?  Because some days are like running the last mile of a marathon, uphill, while Lakitu the Mario cloud-turtle

This. Little. Bastard.

This. Little. Bastard.

whips spiky koopas or batteries at me and Gilbert Godfried drives beside me on a golf-cart while narrating the Twilight novels through a megaphone.  After such days, I need somewhere soft and cushy to land where I don’t have to talk, move or think.

(Apparently this ^ kind of exists.  Dear God why?!?)

Of course, I like to partake of my McDonald’s in moderation – not all day, every day.  Most of the time I exist on a healthy diet of esteemed literature and productivity (ha).  After all, if McDonald’s becomes your only source of nourishment. . . well, I guess you might make a documentary about it and call it Supersize Me.

 supersize me

But also, it won’t be good for you. At all. You’ll probably die or go on Maury where they will have to knock down a wall of your house to remove your sizable girth.

So I watch bad television sometimes, when I need it. It makes me feel sunny.  It breeds tolerance and patience.

Chances are, you indulge in your McDonald’s too.  Maybe it’s bad television.  Maybe it’s popping bubble-wrap for hours on end.  Maybe it’s licking and sealing a stack of empty envelopes.  Maybe it’s looking at pictures of puppies in pajamas on the internet.

Oh, hello there puppy.  I shall now make squeezy-hand cuddle motions at the screen.

Oh, hello there little floppy-puppy-face. I shall now make squeezy-hand cuddle motions at the screen.

Maybe it’s listening to Miley Cyrus or being a self-proclaimed Belieber.  Find it. Savor it.  Deny that you’re lovin’ it. Lather, rinse, repeat.